Laura Spencer

Arts Reporter

Laura Spencer caught the radio bug more than a decade ago when she was asked to read a newscast on the air on her first day volunteering for KOOP, the community radio station in Austin, Texas. 

After moving home to Kansas City, she learned the fine art of editing reel-to-reel tape as an intern and graduate assistant with the nationally syndicated literary program New Letters on the Air. Since 2001, she's focused her efforts on writing and producing feature stories as KCUR's Arts Reporter. 

In 2011, Laura was one of 21 journalists selected for USC Annenberg’s seventh National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater. She's received awards from the Associated Press, Kansas City Art Institute (Excellence in Visual Art and Education), Kansas City Association of Black Journalists, Missouri Broadcasters Association, Radio-Television News Directors Association (regional Edward R. Murrow Award) and Society for Professional Journalists. 

Ways to Connect

courtesy twitter user Colt Snapp ‏@Colt_Snapp

A massive fire was reported Monday morning at the Pioneer Building in downtown St. Joseph, Missouri. Shortly after 10 a.m, large plumes of smoke and flames were sighted outside the historic building at 510 Francis Street. 

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Gift of the Hall Family Foundation.

When Dave Heath died in June at the age of 85, The New York Times described him as a "photographer of isolation."   

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has the largest institutional holding of Heath's work in the United States, and the museum's new exhibition Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath — with nearly 200 photographs from the late 1940s to 2007, from black and white to color — explores themes of loneliness and the desire for connection. 

flickr user Scott Unrein

The Saint Louis Chamber Chorus, celebrating its 61st season, performs about six concerts a year in St. Louis, Missouri. This Saturday, the choral group sings on the other side of the state at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in downtown Kansas City. 

Artistic director Philip Barnes, a native of Great Britain, has been at the helm since 1989.

From the InterUrban ArtHouse web site

When it comes to re-use of buildings, 2017 marks a big year for arts organizations. 

The Johnson County Museum will move into a former bowling alley and ice skating rink in Overland Park, Kansas. Kansas City Young Audiences plans to relocate to a former office supply store in midtown Kansas City, Missouri. And last week, InterUrban ArtHouse closed on the purchase of a U.S. Postal Service building at 8010 Conser St. in downtown Overland Park. 

USGS

Updated: 10:40 p.m. 

Kansas City metro area residents on Sunday night experienced rattling windows and shifting furniture due to another Oklahoma earthquake. 

According to the Associated Press, "The U.S. Geological Survey reported the earthquake struck at 7:44 p.m., with an epicenter located one mile west of Cushing, about 50 miles northeast of Oklahoma City. The USGS initially stated it was a magnitude 5.3 earthquake but lowered that rating to 5.0."

courtesy Kansas City Symphony and Community of Christ.

Updated: 2:15 p.m.

A tradition comes to an end after this holiday season, with the Independence Messiah Choir's final performance of Handel's oratorio Messiah with the Kansas City Symphony Chorus.

Beginning in September, the Independence Messiah Choir meets each Tuesday at the Community of Christ Auditorium in Independence, Missouri, for Messiah rehearsals. This week, members of the choir were told this year would be their final performance with the Symphony. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3 / File

What do artists, arts organizations, and cultural businesses want when it comes to creative space? Affordability? A sense of community?

A new regional arts market study is trying to find out.

Dario Acosta

Tenor Ben Bliss is considered a rising star in the world of opera. And, like opera diva Joyce DiDonato, he grew up in Prairie Village, Kansas. Bliss credits "the support of arts and education and public education" for leading to his musical career. It's something, he says, he "got a really good dose of growing up."

Bliss's father is a freelance cartoonist and his mother sings with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City chorus.

J. Robert Schraeder / Courtesy of the Coterie Theatre

The Coterie Theatre, in its nearly 40-year history, has often challenged audiences with difficult subjects, such as bullying or the Salem witch trials. The theater continues the tradition with its current production, The Nine Who Dared: Courage in Little Rock.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Shakespeare’s romantic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream revolves around the mishaps of two mortal couples, as well as the king and queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania. An oft-quoted line provides a summary of the plot: "The course of true love never did run smooth."

The Kansas City Ballet's production, choreographed by Bruce Wells, tells the story of magic and mistaken identities — through movement and music. 

Here are five things to know about the production: 

1. There's a 30-year connection

Tim Samoff / Flickr--CC

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has filed documents with the city of Kansas City, Missouri, to officially establish a new Master Plan District. The museum submitted an application on Friday to request rezoning some museum-owned properties from residential to non-residential. This would allow for additional uses, such as office space. 

Eric Williams/Kansas City Symphony

This season, Kansas City Symphony audiences will discover a new assistant conductor leading the pops, family, and Screenland at the Symphony concerts: Jason Seber.

Seber relocated to Kansas City just a few months ago from Louisville, Kentucky, after three seasons as education and outreach director of the Louisville Orchestra and 11 years as music director of the Louisville Youth Orchestra. 

I recently talked with Seber about his background and expectations in Kansas City.

The 19th-century English novelist George Eliot was reportedly no great beauty. One contemporary called the author of Middlemarch "exceedingly plain, with her aggressive jaw and her evasive blue eyes." Writer Henry James, who was an admirer, characterized her as "magnificently ugly, deliciously hideous."

courtesy: Steven Holl Architects

Attendance is up at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art — 534,000 people visited in this fiscal year. The collection has grown by more than 20 percent in recent years. And more of the museum's artwork now travels on loan, to places such as Australia, China, Europe, Japan, and Taiwan: The museum loaned 379 pieces of art in this fiscal year, up from 32 in 2011.

But the Nelson-Atkins wants to be bigger and better.

Mid-America Arts Alliance

Mid-America Arts Alliance CEO Mary Kennedy has made arts accessibility a focus of her career, sparked by childhood experiences with dance classes.

"As a kid, I grew up in a really tough neighborhood, and the arts were really my way out," said Kennedy, a native of Topeka, Kansas. 

Clarke Wyatt

Musicians Betse Ellis and Clarke Wyatt started playing as Betse & Clarke, a fiddle and banjo duo, in late 2014. Their latest album is called River Still Rise.

courtesy Helix Architecture and Design, Inc.

Updated: On Thursday, the Kansas City Council approved $7 million in funding for the University of Missouri-Kansas City's downtown campus for the arts. This brings the fundraising total to $48 million, and UMKC will be eligible to seek matching state funds for the $96 million project. 

courtesy: Exhibitions International

Staff from Kansas City's Union Station announced Wednesday that come November the Bank of America Gallery will be the first stop on a three-city North American tour of POMPEII: The Exhibition. 

Exhibitions International president John Norman said visitors to POMPEII will take a journey back in time to the ancient Roman city "where they will learn about Pompeii, and the bustling, commercial port that it was." 

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

More than 20 years ago, in 1994, philanthropist Muriel McBrien Kauffman started talking about a vision for a performing arts center in Kansas City. After years of planning, selecting architect Moshe Safdie, fundraising, and finally building —the $326 million Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts opened to the public in September 2011. 

courtesy: Paul Andrews

Mesner Puppet Theater announced leadership changes to the organization Tuesday.

Founder Paul Mesner will be handing over the reins as artistic director to longtime puppeteer and associate artistic director Mike Horner. The company has also created the new position of Education Director, and artist, set designer and director Alex Espy will be taking on that role. 

Courtesy Two Tone Press

Color is an essential part of the lives of sisters Angie and Michelle Dreher, who run Two Tone Press, a letterpress print shop in midtown Kansas City, Missouri.

But after watching a short video on Facebook, lack of color recognition grabbed their attention.

"It's like, maybe, a 2-minute video. But I was like crying," says Angie Dreher, who watched the video as people tried on EnChroma glasses. They're designed to boost and improve color vision for those who are color blind. 

courtesy: Mid-America Arts Alliance

Mid-America Arts Alliance CEO Mary Kennedy has announced her resignation, effective Oct. 1. 

Kennedy is the third CEO of the regional nonprofit arts organization, having served in that role since 2000. Her connection to M-AAA dates back to 1989, when she joined the organization as curator of exhibitions for ExhibitsUSA, the national traveling exhibition program. 

"It has been an honor to work for an organization whose mission so closely emulates my own: more art for more people," Kennedy said in a news release. 

courtesy: Andy Collier

In late July, blues band Levee Town released its first recording in five years. Guitarist and vocalist Brandon Hudspeth has been with Levee Town since the beginning.

A transplant from Oklahoma, Hudspeth moved to the Kansas City area when he was 19. He played in bands, such as The MO City Jumpers, before co-founding The Cobalt Project — and some of the members of that group went on to create Levee Town. 

Though he's known for his blues playing, Hudspeth also has jazz chops.

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

The National Park Service has added the Kansas City, Missouri, parks and boulevard system to its National Register of Historic Places.

The historic district includes parks and boulevards dating from 1895 to 1965. Three parks are on the list: Kessler Park, Penn Valley Park, and The Parade, as well as seven boulevards: Gladstone, Linwood, Armour, The Paseo, Benton, and Broadway.

Michael Robinson

Two Kansas City design firms Helix Architecture + Design and Blackbird Design Studio announced a merger Tuesday morning.

In its nearly 25 years in downtown Kansas City, Helix has gained a reputation for renovations of notable city landmarks, such as Midland Theatre and the Kansas City Missouri Police Department building.

Photo courtesy of Katherine Dumas

On June 30, Governor Jay Nixon appointed Aliki Barnstone as Missouri’s fourth Poet Laureate.

A creative writing professor at the University of Missouri–Columbia, her work has often appeared in UMKC’s New Letters magazine.  

The daughter of Greek visual artist, Elli Tzalopoulou-Barnstone, and American writer, Willis Barnstone, Aliki Barnstone was destined for a life in the arts.

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

For nearly 30 years, Paul Mesner Puppets (now known as Mesner Puppet Theater) has produced puppet shows based on fairy tales and contemporary children stories, from Sleeping Beauty to The Stinky Cheese Man.  They're mostly aimed at kids, with sly humor for adults, too.

But, in the last few years at the Kansas City Fringe Festival, the puppeteers have been branching out into more risqué material  — of course, for adults. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

You hear the term “placemaking” a lot these days. It's about taking what already exists in a neighborhood and building on it — or reinventing a public space to attract more people to it. The city of Merriam, Kansas is launching a new five-year public art initiative on Wednesday, with a sense of place. 

Kansas City author and teacher Whitney Terrell embedded with the U.S. military in Iraq about a decade ago — writing for publications such as Slate Magazine and The Washington Post. Some of the stories he heard became the basis for his third novel, The Good Lieutenant, an eye-opening look at women in the military.  

file photo: Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

The late dancer and choreographer, Alvin Ailey, believed that "dance is for everybody." That philosophy extends to an event in its second year called Festival on the Vine: three days of dance, art and live performance in the historic 18th and Vine jazz district. 

The festival was created by Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, the second home for Ailey's New York-based dance company. Chief artistic officer Tyrone Aiken walked us through some things to know: 

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